State Sen. Dave Hansen
State Sen. Dave Hansen
MARINETTE - A recent case involving an area elderly couple that was missing for 36 hours has triggered a push by State Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, for Wisconsin to have a Silver Alert system.

On June 11, Leo and Claire Baeb left their home in Townsend to visit one of their daughters in Green Bay. After several hours they still hadn't arrived and their daughter and son-in-law were worried.

They contacted other friends and family members to try and track down the missing couple. Authorities said they had not been gone long enough to be considered missing, according to Hansen.

Eventually law enforcement officials treated the situation as a missing person's case and nearly 36 hours after they left their home Leo, 92, and Claire, 80, were found 107 miles away in West Bend after a police officer spotted the couple's van outside of a Starbucks, with Claire standing beside it.

"Shortly after they returned home, I was contacted by another one of their daughters (Lorraine Randall), a former student of mine who is currently living in Florida," Hansen explained. "She was shocked that Wisconsin doesn't have a Silver Alert system like the one operating with great success in Florida.

"A Silver Alert is a statewide initiative based upon the highly successful Amber Alert to involve the public in locating a cognitively impaired adult who has gotten lost."

Hansen said the call from Randall spurred him to introduce a bill in the Wisconsin Senate to create a Silver Alert system and that similar legislation subsequently was introduced in the Assembly by State Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah.

The legislator said currently 22 states have Silver Alert systems and that nine others have similar programs with different names.

"A total of 31 states altogether have programs to locate missing seniors," he said. "Three other states - Alaska, Iowa and Oregon - have Silver Alert legislation pending."

"I think it's time for Wisconsin to join them with our population aging and many people having Alzheimer's disease and dementia."

Hansen said the state currently operates the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network through the Department of Justice to handle a missing person's case, but that it operates on a paid-subscriber basis and its reach is therefore limited.

"Had a true Silver Alert program been in place that day the Baebs were missing there would have been a notice issued much quicker and they likely would have been located within hours," he said. "This was not an isolated case.
"America's elderly population is growing as the baby boomer generation continues to age and within that growing demographic there has been an increase in cognitively impaired adults."

Hansen said, according to health care statistics, 6 in 10 dementia victims will wander at least once and that if not found within 24 hours up to half of them will either suffer a serious injury or die.

"I think it's just doing the right thing and doing what we can to allow families that have elderly that get a little a disoriented to know there's something out there that can help them in a much quicker time," he added. "There are lots of reasons why we should do this."

Hansen said the Silver Alert would be financially viable to set up with Amber Alert technology already in place. He estimated the cost would be under $50,000.

"Critics of a Silver Alert have argued that it would water down the effectiveness of other programs such as the Amber Alert," he noted. "However this hasn't happened in other states that currently run a Silver Alert.

"I don't think the broadcasters can complain too much. I don't think it's going to be used a great deal more than the Amber Alert. I think any broadcaster knows they have an obligation to provide that community service. I don't think it's going to hurt anybody or anything."

Hansen said Silver Alert bills introduced in the Senate and Assembly have bipartisan support, noting that a great deal of legislators have signed on as co-sponsors.

"There seems to be a lot of interest," he said. "It's an example of a potentially bipartisan bill becoming a law that can make a difference for seniors.

"This is something that Gov. Walker and my Republican colleagues are behind. I think it would be a real good opportunity to show we can work together and make a difference in people's lives."

Hansen said he's hoping the bills will receive committee hearings this fall.

"We feel we have a chance to get this done this fall," he concluded. "These are our parents and grandparents and friends and relatives.

"They deserve to be safe for the rest of their lives. We need to do what we can to protect them."